Saturday, 18 May, 2024

Prioritise Public Education

Umesh Raj Regmi

Every nation prioritises education because it is the precursor to national prosperity and success. It is always a sine qua non to a healthy society. Public education is the marker of the social and economic standard of any nation. However, in Nepal, many people are concerned about the state of public education. The chasm between private and public education in the country has now been widened due to the failure to reform schools in the community. Public education is not just a matter of public access. It is also a matter of the rights and entitlements of all people, and the responsibility of the state. Likewise, public education is linked to political, socio-cultural, economic and environmental status of a country. There are 35,000 plus schools in Nepal that educate around seven million students. However, the quality of education provided is often questionable even when public education needs to be the first priority of the state.

Issues and challenges
The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has made basic education compulsory and free. At this time, public education needs to be accessible, improved, and measurable. Currently, Nepal’s public education is facing many problems. Improving teaching-learning environment in community schools hinges on the factors like the effectiveness of school management committee, availability of minimum educational infrastructures including buildings, computer labs, science laboratories and library corners. Similarly, clean drinking water, convenient toilets and sanitary pads for girls are still limited in many community schools. Old curriculum, unavailable textbooks, lack of technology-based education, vocational education and teacher’s capacity building are some of the problems negatively impacting the quality of public education. The deep-rooted partisan politics over public education is also burdensome to advancing the needs of students.

Most importantly, the lack of a ‘Federal Education Act’ is creating a problem in adequate governance of education. Scarcity of competent teachers, mainly in science, mathematics, and English in rural high schools is a chronic problem. On the other hand, some basic schools have more teachers than needed. Too many of the best graduates in teaching and school administration are not seeking employment in public education due to such concerns as low pay and few perks. However, these problems have received little attention. The failure to implement the findings of different high level commission reports has kept the public education in a state of status quo. Too few parents and guardians of the school children visit to their children’s schools or attend school meetings. But their involvement and input will play an important role in reforming community school. The operation of community schools without a proper plan and oversight is an obvious problem. Very few schools benefit from the joint participation of the schools’ head teachers, the management committee, and the teachers.

The institutionalised journey of education in Nepal traces back to the establishment of Durbar High School by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1910, but attendance was restricted to the Ranas’ children. Before that time, the Gurukul education, Buddhist philosophy and home education were in practice. Prior to 1990, there was little discussion about public versus private education in Nepal. Although private schools started to appear in the late 1980s, extensive growth of private schools only began with the neoliberal policy adopted by the then governments in the early 1990s, after Nepal became a multiparty democracy.

Today, private schools have about 20 per cent of share in the country's education system. The cost of private schools, in terms of tuition and fees, is out of reach of many Nepalis. However, the contribution of private schools in reducing the government’s burden to educate all children is one benefit. Private school education is not synonymous with quality education, but an ineffective public education system has conveyed the wrong message to the people. Looking at the last five years of the national budget, one can see that less than 12 per cent of the total budget is allocated to education.

How can these educational problems be fixed? First and foremost, community schools need to be removed from political influence. Teacher hiring and management committee formation should be apolitical, and based on the performance, commitment and leadership skills. The state should set a slogan ‘public education first’ and allocate 20 per cent of nation’s annual budget to education. Teachers need to work in good facilities and have opportunities to develop their careers. As teachers are the stimuli for change, the state should regard them as the valued resources that they are. Local authorities need to work on improving schools’ infrastructures, including drinking water, toilets, cafeteria, playground, library, and labs. Hiring of teachers through open competition and an extra package of benefits should be awarded to the teachers who are willing to serve in remote communities.

Centre of excellence
Educational anarchy has to be discouraged by all stakeholders and the government needs to stand firmly for good academic governance. For its part, the Ministry Education, Science and Technology should remain accountable. All 753 local levels need to feel their ownership of their local public education institutions and must be dedicated for change in the schools. Rather than rage against private schools, let’s first make the public schools a centre of excellence. Words and policies are not sufficient for the transformation of public education. What matters is the implementation. Moreover, product-oriented and technology-friendly education policy across the country is needed.

Similarly, school supervisors should be assigned to test out the effectiveness of research-based models of education. Fair and effective school management committees are necessary. The real needs and issues of schools need to be addressed with the available local resources. It shouldn’t be delayed to issue the Federal Education Act to have a systematised run of educational activities. Meanwhile, the role of different non-governmental organisations is vital. They are needed to join hands with local governments for building schools and other infrastructures, training teachers and promoting vocational education. Let’s be positive and work optimistically to strengthen public education in the country.

(Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation.